“Leave me alone government people!” shouts Peter Negroponte with a cheeky self-awareness, after a phone conversation presumably about merchant permits, health codes, noise ordinances, or some other square shit.
It’s a drizzly Wednesday afternoon in Jamaica Plain. Negroponte sits behind the counter at Deep Thoughts, the South Street record shop and show space he opened last month with his friend Nick Williams.
The place exudes a feeling of sensory overload. Records and bottles and toys hang from the ceiling. Flyers and zines and photos and notes and other little bits of ephemera collage the walls. Posters for Homegrown Fest and Weirdstalk are pasted up next to polaroids and hand-scribbled illustrations.
“There isn’t another record store exactly like us in Boston,” says Nick, the next evening, while sitting on the shop’s couch and pricing a box of records that have just come in from A Light in the Attic Records. “That has this kind of selection of new vinyl … We have a very diverse selection. I felt like this town needed one.”
As we talk about the shop’s new arrivals, Negroponte paces the shop blowing into an out-of-tune trumpet.
“But what about … Newbury Comics?” I ask, mostly kidding.
“They carry some underground stuff but their finger is in no ways on any kind of pulse that is relevant to my life,” he responds. “I just feel like there needs to be a store that carries the records that all of the bands that come and play in all the basements and bars and VFWs of this town.”
Negroponte and Williams are veteran weirdos of the DIY community in town. They play in Guerilla Toss and Cave Bears, respectively, and have both spent time living in various house show spaces. They also both run record labels, One Kind Favor and Anonymous Dog. Williams started running Deep Thoughts as an online store via Discogs a few years ago; he also co-founded and managed the Western Mass label Feeding Tube Records and the record shop of the same name.
“Both Peter and I are from New York City,” Williams tells me. “We never once would have thought we would live in Boston until all of a sudden magically by way of some sort of tornado we came here and it dropped us down and all of a sudden everything was colorful and bright and everyone was warm and accepting. We like it here very much.”
On the counter of Deep Thoughts, there’s a box of 3 for $5 noise tapes next to copies of the Boston Countercultural Compass and Freak Flag. Behind the counter, there’s an assortment of circuit-bent keyboards for sale.
I am quickly drawn to the excellent selection of tapes, some of which are divided by label: NNA, Not Not Fun, OSR, Feeding Tube Records, Night People, Moss Archives. It’s a comprehensive primer on some of the country’s best underground labels for those unfamiliar, and by far one of the most expansive tape offerings I’ve seen in any record shop ever.
As I flip through the tapes, I chat with Negroponte about how we both really wish more Brattleboro, VT artists like Chris Weisman and Blanche Blanche Blanche would play shows in Boston. Negroponte used to live in Burlington.
Though the “Boston” section of the vinyl is pretty small, local music has a strong presence throughout the shop. The new record by Fat History Month is displayed prominently, as is the debut Fat Creeps split. Negroponte tells me he is considering doing away with the “Boston” section and instead creating a “New England” section of the shop, since he feels a similar sense of local pride about underground artists from Western Mass, Vermont, and other parts of the region.
The record selection is varied: there’s space dedicated to “psych/prog/kraut”, “synth/drone”, “noise” and “High Art” as well as jazz, country, folk, and a large “contemporary rock and pop” section. Lots of punk records too. In the middle of the shop on the floor is a wagon full of $1 records.
In the books section, a copy of American Hardcore sits right next to The Phish Companion and 99 Nights with the 99 Percent. The shop also sells DVDs and VHS tapes.
The walls are blue, green, and yellow. The bookshelves are red.
The shop is stuffed to the brim but uncluttered, a sort of organized chaos that the local underground experimental scene in Boston needs right now.
“You hold in your hand a concrete brick, inside of which there is music.
Walking around the shop, the thing I immediately notice is the similarities in aesthetic to Gay Gardens or Whitehaus, two house show spaces at the center of Boston’s underground experimental music community until last year, when both were finally shut down by the BPD. It’s just immediately apparent to anyone who ever spent time in those DIY spaces: the vibe is very similar. When I first heard about Deep Thoughts, folks from the music scene hoped that this record shop and show space would channel the energy of those now-defunct spaces into something more sustainable. This does seem to be the case.
When you walk from the record shop, past the bookshelves, over to the stairs to the basement show space, you literally have to walk past [a pair of objects**] that used to belong at the door at Gay Gardens.
** I can’t tell you what these objects are but if you go to Deep Thoughts I am sure they will fill you in about all the connections between Deep Thoughts and house venue like Gay Gardens.**
“There was a lot more chaos to Gay Gardens, which is what was so beautiful about it,” says Peter. “Yeah, but you’ve gotta keep your shit together, keep your store together,” adds Nick.
The folks who run Deep Thoughts are very vocal about the fact that having shows at their space is entirely legal.
“It’s legal because it’s all ages and we don’t charge money or sell alcohol,” says Williams. “You can’t hear it outside because it’s soundproofed. And we have free access to our basement space. If someone tries to tell me that we’re illegal, I can show them the laws and show them we’re not. It’s awesome and exciting.”
Around the entrance to the Deep Thoughts’ stairwell (down to the show space) is a zany multimedia sculpture of newsprint, found objects, newspapers, bottles. “It’s all paper mache and garbage,” Negroponte tells me. “Cassie from Guerilla Toss made that. It’s her baby. She spent weeks on that.”
The basement is dark, lit by blue and green fluorescent lights, plus a string of Xmas lights. The ceiling is unfinished. The walls are covered in murals: a giant skull, a Tinkerbell, some more abstract patches of colors and shapes, plus illustrations by local artists like Ronnie Nordac and Adric. There’s still a pile of paint buckets and brushes against the back wall.
At a certain point, I asked Peter and Nick to summarize the ethos of Deep Thoughts via five of the shop’s items. They give me these examples:
First is “The Web,” the massive criss-crossing web of pieces of yarn hanging from the ceiling, holding all sorts of toys and records and assorted garbage. “I loved the web so much that was going at Gay Garden,” says Negroponte. “It was just this thing that web that holds miscellaneous objects. The Gay Gardens one was more garbage-y, this has more of a childish concept to it. There’s lots of toys … We’re all children and we’re all caught in a web.”
Next, Williams and Negroponte point out “the guitar amp and messed up guitar that are always sitting behind the counter” – another essential assortment of items in the shop. “Either Peter or I can always rip a nasty solo over what’s playing on the stereo,” says Williams. “I like the concept of lots of music playing at once.”
Third on their list, the two mention one record: the first Skimask LP. “Every day someone comes in and asks for it and cant find it because it doesn’t say Skimask on it,” says Williams. “I just want everyone to know that we have the first Skimask LP. The band never broke up at all. It’s all a hoax.”
Fourth, Williams points to “the wooden shelf that holds all of our amazing cassette tapes …. you’re not going to find anywhere in Boston,” he adds. “Or most of the world.”
And lastly, they look around the room and point out to me the painting of dogs by Peter’s mom that take up a large amount of the wall space. “They’re just demented. I don’t know if Pete’s mom can even comprehend how much I love the paintings and why,” says Nick. “If it wasn’t for my mom I wouldn’t be here today,” adds Peter. “It’s a good reminder. Happy Mother’s Day Mom.”
Personally, before I leave the store, I observe one object that I think speaks to the message of the shop more so than most else. I find it on a shelf of “cassette tapes with weird shaped packing.” It’s a brick. Attached to the brick is a slip of paper, labeled 76/100, that reads:
The only way to hear the music contained within is t crack it, but to do so
puts the music itself at risk. By your own actions you can either free the
music or render it forever unlistenable. Or, you can leave it in its present
state where it only has the potential to become music. The musicability of the
concrete is entirely in your hands.”
Deep Thoughts JP is open every day from noon until 8pm at 138b South Street in Jamaica Plain. You can sell & trade your records there. Below is a list of all upcoming shows at the shop.
May 10 - Form A Log, Mothcock, Chemtrails, Fire Death, Ilza Babies of Brazzer
May 12 - Masaki Batoh (Japan - of Ghost) Strange Men
May 15 - Frank Hurricane's B-Day Party
May 21 - Haves and Thirds, OutmodeCraow, Taps
May 28 - Wei Zhongle, Shenzhen, Jason Sanford
June 01 - Funeral Cone, Desert Sharks
June 07 - Paper Castles
June 08 - Video Nasties
June 22 - Dark Rodeo, Hyena, Vio/Miré, Laughing Eye Weeping Eye
June 30 - Cult & Leper, Cool Memories, Nymph, Devil Music